July 25, 2022
Long COVID-19 syndrome refers to residual symptoms that people continue to experience long after recovering from the disease.
The World Health Organisation defines this as a condition that occurs in individuals usually three months from the onset of COVID-19, with symptoms that last for at least two months, and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.
Some studies suggest that long COVID-19 might be a result of the initial infection causing the immune system to go into overdrive, which leads to persistent side effects due to the body’s attacking of its own organs, and not just the COVID-19 virus.
Doctors in Singapore have reported seeing an increase in patients seeking help for long COVID-19 since the start of the Omicron surge in February 2022.
Some of the common symptoms of long COVID-19 include persistent cough, runny nose, feeling faint, palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, memory / concentration issues, and fatigue.
Other symptoms reported include anxiety or depression, muscle aches, loss of smell, and loss of taste. These symptoms usually last for four weeks or more after the initial diagnosis.
There is currently no standard test. However, people suspected of having long COVID-19 will first be checked for other underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart inflammation, lung scarring, asthma, thyroid abnormalities, and iron deficiency, before being diagnosed with long COVID-19.
Some studies have highlighted four key factors that increase the risk of long COVID-19. They include having a high viral load during the acute infection, presence of diabetes, presence of auto-antibodies, and the reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus in some patients. It is also likely to be influenced by a combination of genetic, microbial, and environmental factors.
The understanding of the duration of this condition is still not completely clear. Most COVID-19 patients will recover from their symptoms within four weeks after their infection. Some others may find their symptoms persisting for four to 12 weeks with an even smaller number having symptoms that go beyond this period.
Patients who have persistent symptoms or have developed new or worsening symptoms after recovering from COVID-19 should go for a medical evaluation, especially so if the symptoms impact them in ways such as affecting their sleep and quality of life.
In addition, active individuals who are planning to go back to strenuous or high-intensity exercises but continue to have chest pain or tightness, breathlessness, palpitations, or light-headedness should also be thoroughly evaluated.
Currently, there are no proven drug treatments for long COVID-19, with the main focus on managing symptoms, optimising function and quality of life during the symptomatic period. Suitable medication can be prescribed to relieve various symptoms and is customised for each patient. After serious conditions are ruled out during consultation, patients will then be encouraged to resume physical exercise and other activities gradually.
A major association of long COVID-19 is having a severe COVID-19 infection. Hence, preventing COVID-19 infection and reducing the risk of severe disease through vaccination is the best way to prevent the development of long COVID-19.
This is supported by overseas data showing that the risk of developing the condition is reduced by half in vaccinated people; while one in 10 recovered COVID-19 patients who were unvaccinated had persistent symptoms six months after their initial infection.
Source: Raffles Medical Group
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